TOMMY Sheppard has complained to Michael Gove accusing him of a lack of “courtesy” after he found out from a report in The National the Cabinet Office was lodging an appeal over a ruling ordering them to release secret polling on attitudes to the Union.

The SNP MP has been embroiled in a Freedom of Information (FOI) battle with Gove’s office since 2019 over surveys it carried out on independence dating back to early 2018.

It is understood some of the polling requested also includes surveys carried out controversially with cash originally intended for work on the Covid pandemic.

Tory ministers were dealt a major blow on June 14 after they were ordered to disclose the files following a FOI request by Sheppard in June 2019 seeking details of the polling on public perception on the Union, including how much public money had been spent on it.

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The tribunal gave the Cabinet Office 28 days to hand over the information. The deadline expired yesterday with the Cabinet Office announcing a last-minute decision to appeal the tribunal’s order.

A UK Government spokesman told The National on Monday night: “We disagree with the tribunal’s conclusions and have requested permission from the court to appeal. On that basis the information has not been released.”

Sheppard was not informed of the decision and heard about it when he read The National’s report yesterday morning. Writing to Gove yesterday, he criticised a lack of courtesy at not being told directly of the department’s decision. He also asked the Cabinet Minister on what grounds the appeal is being made.

“I understand from media reports that the Cabinet Office has decided to appeal the decision made by the First-tier Tribunal in the above case,” he said.

“I would have hoped that you would have done me the courtesy, as a fellow member of the House of Commons and the appellant in this case, of letting me know that it was the intention of your department to seek to overturn the decision that was made in my favour. It is disappointing to have found this out from the press.”

He added: “I respect that it is the government’s right to make an appeal however I understand that the grounds this can be done on are very limited. As the appellant in the case, I hope you will now feel able to share with me the basis of this appeal. As you will know, there is considerable public interest in this case and sharing this information would assist you in presenting an image of open and transparent government.”

After Sheppard’s initial requests for the documents were refused on the basis it related to the formulation of government policy, he appealed to the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO), arguing that since the UK Government had no stated intention to review or alter policy in respect of the Union, an exemption clause should not apply.

The ICO sided with the Government and in February last year, Sheppard, the SNP MP for Edinburgh East, took the case to tribunal.

In a victory for the SNP, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights ruled the information requested “relates to the implementation of existing policy rather than to policy development” told the Cabinet Office on June 14 it must disclose the information requested by Sheppard.

The National made a request to the Cabinet Office on June 16 asking to be given the documents, but the department refused to do so indicating it would respond to the ruling “in due course”.

Sheppard, the SNP’s shadow constitutional affairs minister, hit out at the last-minute decision by the Cabinet Office to appeal.

“It has now been 28 days since the tribunal ruled that the information requested must be made public, yet I have failed to receive any information or update from the Cabinet Office,” he said.

“Emergency Covid contracts were supposed to be used for things like PPE, or for our doctors and nurses fighting Covid.

“Instead, during the height of this pandemic, Mr Gove used emergency contracts to commission political research on constitutional issues.

"Furthermore, he handed these lucrative contracts to long-time friends and former employees.

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“I have long suspected that Mr Gove did not want the information surrounding secret polling made public – his decision to appeal the tribunal’s ruling further enhances that suspicion. If he has nothing to hide, why does he feel the need to appeal?

“This UK Government are hiding vital information from the general public – full transparency on how their money has been misspent is urgently required.”

The ruling was the latest setback for Gove, who was slammed by a judge earlier last month for a “profound lack of transparency” and was ordered to release internal files shedding light on a secretive unit that handles FOI requests. The developments also follow a successful long-running FOI battle between The National and the Scotland Office in regards to obtaining files dating back to 1997.